Malcolm Gladwell has developed a reputation of challenging conventional wisdom and introducing a new way of looking at cultural issues. He does not diMalcolm Gladwell has developed a reputation of challenging conventional wisdom and introducing a new way of looking at cultural issues. He does not disappoint in his most recent book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Gladwell uses a myriad of stories to illustrate that the powerful are not as powerful as they seem, and the weak are not as weak as they appear. The book begins, as the title indicates, with a detailed and novel view of the mythic battle of David and Goliath. It is assumed that Goliath, who was at least 7 feet tall and several hundred pounds, is the obvious favorite to win the battle against David, the small adolescent. Through the use of research and historical investigation Malcolm Gladwell paints a convincing story of David being the actual favored one with his sling hurling deadly stones at a distance whereas Goliath with his heavy armor and potential sight impairment was a sitting duck. The specific thing that made David appear as the underdog, his size and his age and his profession as a shepherd, where the same variables that created his upper hand. Goliath had strength; David had speed and surprise.
Gladwell continues to weave story after story through David and Goliath depicting unique and often unheard of stories to reveal what appears as a strength can be a weakness and vice a versa. One of the most intriguing stories he tells is of a middle age woman who was passionate about science growing up. She choose to attend an Ivy League University, and due to the competitive environment and the difficulty of the courses she dropped her science major. Gladwell states, “[it] is not just how smart you are. It’s how smart you feel relative to the other people in the classroom.” He goes on to argue that it would have better for this individual to have attended her second choice, a non-Ivy League University, where she would have likely graduated in the top quartile of her class with a science degree. This path would have allowed her to pursue her passion and become the scientist she always dreamed of. In a society that glamorizes getting the “best education” his point flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
One major lesson to be taken from David and Goliath is that weakness, setbacks, and failure can, though not always, be a means of growth and strength that can come about by no other way. Gladwell depicts the life of Gary Cohn, president of Goldman Sachs, whose dyslexia and subsequent challenges in life and school shaped his character. “My upbringing allowed me to be comfortable with failure… [and] I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dyslexia. I never would have taken that first chance [of trying to get a job on Wall Street].” Very few parents wish the hard things they have gone through upon their children, but as Gladwell argues, those same difficulties have shaped and enabled them to accomplish unique and grand feats. Gladwell puts it well when he says, “Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”
The main critics of Gladwell cite his use of stories to back up a point when there are plenty of other stories to contradict his intended message. The real question is whether Gladwell objectively used facts to build a case from the ground up or simply took an interesting story and figured out a lesson to derive from it subjectively. It is easy to cherry pick data and stories to prove a theorem. Statistics can be boring, and stories sell. Granted, Malcolm Gladwell does have statistics sprinkled throughout his stories to back the point he is arguing, but his main persuasive tactic is emotional appeal and narrative. The stories are fascinating but the principles Gladwell derives should not be swallowed whole. It is doubtful that David and Goliath is intended to argue that certain principles will always apply and that everything we understand is backwards, but rather what we think is true is not always true and underdogs and the weak can be stronger than meets the eye....more
Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City by Jim Krane is a fascinating and enlightening book about the development and the grandiose personalitiesDubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City by Jim Krane is a fascinating and enlightening book about the development and the grandiose personalities that pervade Dubai’s historical landscape. The book is divided up into the historically positive developments of Dubai and the drawbacks of its aggressive growth alongside with its future challenges. Mr. Kane does an exquisite job painting the story of the rise of the late Sheikh Rashid al Maktoum who took risk by “betting the farm” on a handful of infrastructure projects and public policy that paid off handsomely in the face of naysayers. The current ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad, who is the son of the Sheikh Rashid has followed in his father’s footsteps to make Dubai famous. The author writes with great detail, through personal interviews, historical research, and firsthand experience while living in Dubai, and leads the reader on a journey through the rise and complexities of a city that had legal slavery until 1963 and no electricity in the 1960’s while other countries sent rockets to the moon.
The author does an even handed job at portraying the positive effects, as while as the often unseen negative ones, of the rise of Dubai. The city’s ruler aims to make Dubai the greatest city in the world in education, healthcare, finance, and most every other industry, and with a treasure trove of wealth, little bureaucratic red-tape due to democracy, and a ruler with a grand vision the reader comes to believe that more improbably aspirations have been pursued. For western readers it will come as a shock that most Emiratis, as the citizens are called, favor the understood negotiation of loyalty to the leader in exchange of protection and physical benefits. The major blowbacks of the quick and feverish development of Dubai, along with light regulation, lay in the rise of women in forced prostitution, unlivable conditions for the lower class migrant workers, and blatant disregard for the environment. Furthermore, the author’s interviews with key figures in the Dubai economy, such as Tom Wright who built the legendary Brj al Arab, are among the most interesting tales in the story.
The author ends the book detailing the challenges and consequences Dubai faces in light of their swift development (at one time have a third of all cranes in the world) and risk taking mentality. Real estate was bought and sold several times before even being built in many cases. With the financial crisis, many foreigners withdrew their money and the whole economy tanked. Dubai was bailed out, in part, by its bigger brother, the oil rich Abu Dhabi, an emirate 120 km south and is slowly recovering from its economic hangover. Dubai has developed within 50 years what took other cities 200. It is a city like no other, and Jim Krane tells the story with wit, balance, and expertise. ...more